In four years’ time, I lived in a new country, completed an undergraduate degree, and witnessed firsthand two of the most controversial elections in both the U.K. and U.S.’s history.
I graduated from the University of St Andrews on June 24th, 2016. In the early hours of that Friday morning in Scotland, I stood in line to collect my gown for my ceremony, taking in the realization that on this day, life as I knew it was over. My perception of myself was about to change forever, and in what way I wasn’t sure. As I stood waiting with my fellow classmates, a friend dashed over to breathlessly tell me the news: the U.K. voted “Yes” to leave the E.U. – a decision now known as Brexit. The E.U. referendum David Cameron proposed and expected to be declined had swung in the direction no one prepared for. On June 24th, 2016, the mood was funereal among my peers, with many claiming that the U.K. they knew was dead. Confusion, anger, and disappointment tinged the day, a historical one for my graduating class and for the U.K. Looming uncertainty not only faced us as we transitioned from university students to graduates, it also faced the country as a whole. Our previous perception of the U.K. was altered. But the country itself was certainly not killed by Brexit.
Returning to America, I saw our own political firestorm brewing: a brutal battle between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in their bid for the presidency. A mere four months after my university graduation, the U.S. elected Donald Trump as our 45th president – a result that has stunned many of my millennial peers. While the polling results were trickling in, I saw lots of social media posts claiming that America was now dead. However, I think that America is far from its deathbed. Yes, it’s changing. There’s no doubt about that. But the world is changing – following Brexit, Cameron resigned, leaving staunchly anti-immigration Conservative party leader Theresa May to replace him as Prime Minister. The U.S. has a Republican majority in the House and Senate, and elected one of the most divisive Republican nominees in our nation’s history into office. Like the U.K., the U.S. is being forced to examine how we got here. We are being forced to uncomfortably alter our perception of our country’s systems.
There’s a lot of talk about “the silent majority” that voted for Trump, and in the early hours of November 9th, their silence was broken. Clearly, the mood across the world is not being accurately reflected by the news media or by people sharing that work on social media. Those who felt silenced mobilized and used their voting rights as their form of activism in a time where predominantly white, working class communities have repeatedly been told they aren’t heard or respected. Shutting down dialogue got us here. Making voters feel devalued for supporting someone who manipulatively appealed to their fear and frustration got us here. The failure of the media to fairly report on the election got us here.
The ugly truth is that our news media is tainted by elitism, capitalism, and corruption. Journalists need to take responsibility for their inherent bias, their irresponsible avoidance of tackling our country’s institutionalized racism, sexism, ableism, and homophobia. This privileged methodology trickles down to our social media, where discussion is only encouraged if your mentality is shared. Facebook and Twitter algorithms allow us to communicate in an echo chamber where our views and opinions continue to be reinforced, and fake news stories run rampant. Reporting on the election cycle adapted to a social media age of information sharing, where content has a shelf life of one week, knee-jerk reactions attract more readers, and rationality in alternative discourse is all but impossible.
We didn’t hear the silent majority because we didn’t want to listen. As we did with Donald Trump, we rejected differences with disdain and disrespect. Is that to say I share the values and opinions of Trump and his hate speech towards others? Absolutely not. But just because I do not share a common political mentality does not mean that the opinions of others do not exist. America’s democratic system is meant to reflect the majority of the nation’s voice, and that silenced voice was building into a loud and frustrated one. By ignoring its existence for the past year, we will be forced to hear it for the next four.
A Management graduate of The University of St Andrews, K. Staley Sharples is currently Editor in Chief of the online music publication Saint Audio. She additionally contributes to Audiences Everywhere and Number 3 Magazine.